Japan is a literal world apart from the West. Spain or Italy, which have different languages and cultures to us, still share plenty of similarities. Though you may not understand what the road signs mean, you can at least approximately read them and sound them out. In Japan, not so. Of course, the cultural divides go much deeper than just written and spoken language. Step out of the train onto Akiba Main Street, and the neon lights, the Neolithic plasma screens showcasing the latest games and anime, the noise of idol music, it all washes over you like a tsunami of Japanese culture. We don't really have that in the West, not to nearly the same level, at least. There are shops above shops above shops, stocking all manner of esoteric curios, from the grandiose and obvious to the minuscule and obscure merchandise based on the latest anime or video game. It's not just a part of life. It's lapped up. It's craved.
Spin-offs and merchandise are rife in Japan. For every lamentable Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed instalment, there are four to several franchises (hello Dragon Quest, Dragonball, and Pokemon). When Japan does something, it does it big. If it's popular, it's on t-shirts, mugs, backpacks, lunch boxes. It's also on exclusive mobile phone models, it's sponsoring the Tokyo Tower, it's on McDonalds food packaging.
Beyond this, it's also worth acknowledging that the West has a very different viewpoint in regards to certain issues, most pertinent to the topic at hand, the female form and how men react to it. For us, a woman in a swimsuit is a very sexualised thing. Especially when it becomes the topic of a videogame made by a studio whose main claim-to-fame can be summarised in the term jiggle physics.
Yes, I'm talking about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 Fortune.
For those who don't know, DoA Xtreme 3F is the latest in the Xtreme Beach Volleyball series; a spin-off of Koei-Tecmo's powerhouse fighting game series, Dead or Alive. As I've discussed at great length elsewhere, Dead or Alive is a brilliant fighting game wrapped up in some stunning eye-candy, that (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your stance) predominantly forms most people's first opinions of the game. Crack open the (exceptionally pretty - and jiggly) hood, and there's a powerful fighting game throwing all the right moves. Is the same true for Xtreme 3 F though?
Originally, Koei-Tecmo announced that, unlike previous games in the series, it would not be releasing Xtreme 3F outside of Japan. This is mainly due to us in the West assuming that jiggle physics girls in bikinis are an inherently sexual thing, and thus having a girl who looks twelve prancing around in one is undoubtedly paedophilic. In Japan, it's called ecci. It's about cuteness, not sexuality, but hey, why try that argument with the censors just to please a small (but eye-opening-ly dedicated) following. Normally, there'd be no real point examining the game, but now Koei-Tecmo have announced that they are releasing a version of the game with English subtitles. Great if you don't read Japanese.
I picked up Xtreme 3F whilst I was in Japan, mainly as its exclusivity made it a great souvenir, and also because I am a big fan of the DoA series. My copy is entirely in Japanese, so it takes a bit of effort reading out the kana and translating it, but I'm a glutton for such things, so I've spent quite a bit of time in the game.
So what is the DoA Xtreme series about? In short, the DoA girls put their rivalries in the fighting ring aside in order to relax on a beautiful desert island, catching some rays by the pool, playing the titular Volleyball, dressing up in pretty swimsuits and posing for photos, and even a spot of casino games; all to make more cash to buy more pretty swimsuits and bikinis to wear, or for other gifts to keep the girls happy. Not your usual game. It's a very relaxed experience, for the most part, and when you try to explain it to your friends, it sounds incredibly dull, at best, or ridiculously perverted at worst. The thing is, the volleyball was actually a very enjoyable game, and the other events all made for great little mini games. Yes, a grown man playing dress-up dolls with digital girls seems mothers-basement material to us, but it's big money and (almost) socially acceptable in Japan. Ultimately, a pleasant enough distraction, but never really likely to be a chart topping, Call of Duty beating smash hit over here.
So what of Xtreme 3F?
The game is essentially what anyone who has played the originals would expect. Most of the mini games make a comeback. Volleyball is still the mainstay, of course, and is surprisingly simple to play, but with each stick controlling separate members of your team, it can be challenging to master and demands quick reflexes. Then come the pool games; Butt Battles (where the girls try to knock each other off an inflatable ring into the water using only their... You get the picture) and Tug-of-War, which require a decent level of thought and skill to win at. There's also Pool Hopping and Rock Climbing which, whilst briefly enjoyable, are essentially just quick time event challenges, so get old quickly.
Jet Ski Racing is sadly absent, as, disappointingly, is multiplayer. Maybe it's hard to imagine inviting your mates over to have Butt Battles with bikini clad buxom girls, but genuinely it used to be a great laugh and the Volleyball really is that good. This is a punishing and confusing omission.
Whilst the outdoor games are best for making the girls happy, the casino games are the money-makers and these are still enjoyable and, interestingly, each girl seems to have much more individual personality than before. Sadly, this has come at the expense of numbers. Only nine girls are playable this time and, as this includes DoA 5's newcomers Honoka and Marie Rose (the aforementioned looks-like-she's-twelve character), so some of the fan favourites are sadly missing.
The graphics are, as one would expect, stunning. The Soft 2.0 engine does a fantastic job of rendering the complexities of skin, creating realistic textures, movement and deformation. Dirt and water accrue and act almost perfectly, I cannot think of a game that has better water in it. If the game were purely being rated on its physics engine, it'd be nearing a perfect score, the girls even get tans (and corresponding tan lines) the more they're out and about. There are occasional clipping issues where hair moves through shoulders or swimsuits, but it's nothing too distracting.
Sadly, DoA Xtreme 3F is still one of those games that has always been a little tight on content (essentially a collection of mini games with a sort of dating-sim element, layered over the top of a stunning physics engine) but the removal of multiplayer and several key activities really hampers a game that's already fairly narrowly marketed. It's visually stunning, and ultimately, that's the point. The game is designed to be something you stare at and watch, and on that front, it excels. Sadly, however, there's not much to keep players coming back for long.